The Ministry in Historical Perspectives

by H. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams (eds.)

H. Richard Niebuhr was Professor of Christian Theology at Yale University Divinity School. His most famous book is Christ and Culture. Assisting him in this project were Daniel Day Williams, Professor of Theology at Union Theological School, and James Gustafson, then on the staff of the Study of Theological Education in the U.S. and Canada.

The Ministry in Historical Perspectives was published in 1956 by Harper & Brothers, New York. It was part of a survey of theological education in the United States and Canada, which led to the publishing of this book as well as H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (1956) and H. Richard Niebuhr, Daniel D. Williams, and James M. Gustafson, The Advancement of Theological Education (1957). This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock


(ENTIRE BOOK) The subject of this book concerns the various concepts of what a "minister" is. From the time of St. Paul and the primitive church to the present, ministry developed in many directions. The various authors of these chapters demonstrate what the ministry has been, what it is today (1956) and the portent of what it is to become.


  • Chapter 1: The Ministry in the Primative Church, by John Knox

    The derivation of the names for the leaders of the First Century church which includes, among others, the terms Ministery (I), Apostles (II), Bishops and Deacons (III), Prophets & Teachers (IV), Presbyters and Elders (V), and the Episcopacy (VI).

  • Chapter 2: The Ministry of the Ante-Nicene Church (c. 125-325), by George H. Williams

    There is meager evidence for the end of the New Testament epoch and the beginning of the Patristic period concerning the various leadership positions. There were at least five competing images in which a chief pastor of a Christian church might see himself mirrored (c. 125): as an elder of a Christian sanhedrin, as an apostle, as a prophet, as a high priest, or as an epiphany of God or Christ to the Christian people. The various orders are gradually refined. The Nicene Council delineated an understanding concerning some of the ecclesiastical positions.

  • Chapter 3: The Ministry in the Later Patristic Period (314-451), by George H. Willliams.

    In the complete change of religious climate after Constantine most of the new patterns of priestly behavior and pastoral rule which were to prevail for a millennium in both Eastern and Western Catholicism until challenged by Protestantism were laid down in the period between the Council of Arles in 314 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

  • Chapter 4: The Ministry in the Middle Ages, by Roland H. Bainton

    Great changes were occasioned by a vast alteration in the social structure as a result of the barbarian inroads. Society was put in disarray. A further and even more serious setback was occasioned by the Mohammedan invasion commencing in the sixth century which made of the Mediterranean an Islamic sea. Against the heretics and the schismatics the Church invoked the Inquisition. Churchmen should inquire and pass sentence. Civil rulers should implement their decisions at the stake. The Inquisition was deemed a department of the cure of souls. Its object was not to burn heretics in the body but to save them by the fear of a brief temporal fire from the unquenchable flames.

  • Chapter 5: The Ministry in the Time of the Continental Reformation, by Wilhelm Pauck

    Reformers led to an emphasis upon the proclamation of the Word — preaching. All believers are considered ministers, but for the sake of order, certain ones, the ministers, are set aside for the office of preacher. This view of the rights of the individual implied a rejection of clericalism. At the beginning of the reformation there was no overall plan of organization. It was finally agreed that there was nothing of more prime importance than the Bible. A new social and vocational class, that of the Protestant minister soon developed and the scholar’s gown became the garment of the ministry.

  • Chapter 6: Priestly Ministries in the Modern Church, by Edward Rochie Hardy Jr.

    The role, requirements, ordination, status and even death of the priest/minister/clergy/presbyter…in modern times.

  • Chapter 7: The Ministry in the Puritan Age, by Winthrop S. Hudson

    Formerly the clergy had been “priests,” finding their primary responsibility at the altar; now they were “ministers,” with preaching and pastoral care as their pre-eminent duties.

  • Chapter 8: The Rise of the Evangelical Conception of the Ministry in America (1607-1850), by Sidney E. Mead

    The conception of the ministry, the practice, and why these came about in America during the two hundred and fifty years from the planting of the first permanent English colony in 1607 to the stabilization of the new nation on the verge of the Civil War. Diversity and fragmentation, adaptation, voluntarism, British influence, denominationalism and salary dependence are areas discussed.

  • Chapter 9: The Protestant Ministry in America: 1850 to the Present, by Robert S. Michaelsen

    The changes in the concept of the ministry has been revolutionary in the past 100 years — industrialization, urbanization, ascension in world power, tremendous growth in population. These factors accentuated the last decades of the 19th Century only to be accelerated in the 20th.